Is there a beneficial collectivism that supports and maintains the individual while enhancing the chances for attaining success en toto? Really, that’s your first sentence after two weeks vacation?
I have spent the last two weeks with my wife’s family in Brazil. Our four daughters and son-in-law joined us (well one was already there, but traveled with us in country) as we spent time on the coast and then inland at the center of the families heart both literally and figuratively. The experience was heart warming and eye opening. I come from a tiny family. As a nuclear family I would say our element is helium. I am an only child. So was my mother. My father had one brother we rarely saw and have only reconnected with my two first cousins after a hiatus of twenty five years. We are gaseous and don’t really mix that well, if at all. My wife’s family element might be silicon. Combine with oxygen and you get the intricate crystalline at the heart of quartz and amethyst, two semi precious gems at the very bedrock of the country in which they shine. They are dense, complicated, brilliant, strong, sometimes hard to penetrate, often shining as individuals and almost always connected at the heart. More on the matrix of human interdependence and support in a minute.
Unfortunately, while I was idyling in south american paradise, my NY Yankees were getting dominated by those bearded bastardos of Beantown. As an observer of and author on the subject of productivity and teamwork, I have to put aside my home-town partiality and admit, those scruffy scalawags are onto something up in Boston. The Redsox are the team to beat this year and have turned themselves around 180 degrees. Now you can’t hit a baseball with facial hair, (although some of the Sox might actually be able to catch one in their chin nests) but apparently it can build a lot of team chemistry. Often, a group can build a great deal of common trust and sense of purpose in building a fence between the essence of “us” and the sense of “them”. Sports teams have a keenly identifiable short term goal – Win. Win today, win the division, win the championship. A clear beginning and end for each campaign and unlike many business and personal objectives, a clearly defined timeframe called a season. A team is made of individuals and a season can contain personal accomplishments for some players such as milestones achieved or awards garnered, but the goal of a championship can only be attained as a group and once attained, no member of the team is more than any other. A bench player who does no more that pinch run once or pitch an inning over the course of the World Series is no less a champion that the guy who hits five home runs or is the winning in pitcher in two out of four of the teams wins. There are intangibles that have to be present for a team to make the leap from group of individuals to cohesive collective of winners. If the beards help Boston’s pull together by giving them an identity and level of camaraderie that transcends the mere fact that they share a common employer, their barber may end up being their MVP. The matrix of short term goal and unique team identity is the nexus around which the structure of a winning team is growing in the Redsox Nation this year.
Families are sort of a fluke of nature. As the saying goes ‘you can’t choose your family’. Close families do choose each other. They revel in shared history and maintain the collective memory. I listened as my new Brazilian family spent days telling the stories of great grandparents, aunts, uncles and their humorous exploits, their accomplishments and petty squabbles; listened as they sang songs together. I watched them welcome new members of the family, including myself, my two daughters and my wife’s new son-in-law as well as other new ‘aggregados’ as they call folks who marry into the clan and absorbed as completely as rice absorbs the rich gravy of slow cooked beans. I even saw them assimilate a brand new blood relative none of them even knew existed and who showed up at the family reunion as the only representative of a branch of the family tree that bore new fruit. The strong matrix of interconnection is the foundation that sustains a family over the course of generations and ensures that while a chip or two can form, the vein of love,trust and ancestry can never really be exhausted.
What about our work teams. How do we build teams that can find an identity, build trust and a common objective and attain success? I think the basic currency of the work environment pulls against the growth of teams that can function effectively for the long terms. Here are some reasons:
- Our systems of evaluation and compensation are all skewed toward individual performance rather than team performance.
- Our management structures tend to leave one person in charge of hiring for a given team
- Our focus on goals is focused either too high (ROI, EPS) or two low (quarterly quotas)
- Our process for on-boarding new team members lacks the depth of training and acculturation that encourages a sense of mutual identity and objectives
Over the coming days I will address each of these in-depth. Particular emphasis will be paid to building structure on the matrix.
Bem Vindo de novo a Productive Practice. Welcome back.